A reading from the gospel of Chuck E. Cheese

Do not let his blank-eyed smile and raised thumb fool you, this is a fiendish mousedemon

GateHouse – Due to the dark and vengeful nature of karma, I spent the better part of the weekend ensnared in a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant.

It was a birthday celebration for a small and alarmingly adorable 5-year-old who I hope will one day have children of his own, so he can know exactly what it’s like to spend part of your weekend ensnared in a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant. Take it from Uncle Jeff, Junior: You’ll learn. One day, a day in the distant, misty future, you will learn.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been inside Chuck E. Cheese on a weekend afternoon, but it resembles what I imagine life is like if you are an atom: small people and fragile items bounding about with no clear direction or goal, but all crazed and all violent and all carrying juice. (OK, I don’t know if atoms actually transport juice, as I missed that day in Advanced Chem.)

They move simply to move; exist for the sake of existing, stop only when it becomes apparent that I’m walking DIRECTLY BEHIND A GROUP OF THEM, and then they slam on their brakes to ensure that I have to instantly readjust, which at my age is the sort of thing that can result in the disfigurement of a knee.


So parents take these kids, and they cram them into a finite space that’s filled with whelping buzzes and screaming and video games about guns and dinosaurs, features a robot gorilla who sings “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and subscribes to harsh anti-liquor laws for some reason and then — THEN — they corral the kids together and bestow upon them CAKE, which is made out of SUGAR, which makes children SHOOT FLAMES OUT OF THEIR EARS while they abandon whatever wafer-thin interest they ever had in your paternal authority.

I should, at this point, mention two things.

First, I actually had a fine time at this birthday party, mostly because it entertained my own son, which is something I can apparently no longer accomplish myself (“No Daddy, can you go in the other room?” he now asks up to 60 times a day).

But also, and I don’t want to gloat here, I unleashed the single best game of Ms. Pac-Man I ever played in my life.

When you’re a very small Ms. Pac-Man player, of course, you consider yourself lucky to get to the first movie-scene Interlude, where, as the game tells you with sweaty, barely containable anticipation, They Meet. (“They,” of course, meaning Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, in case you were worried that she was out hooking up with Q-Bert or something).

But at Chuck E. Cheese, I humbly submit that I rocked Ms. Pac-Man’s face off. I cleared boards with an awe-inspiring majesty. I gobbled pills like a right-wing radio talk show host. I got to boards I’ve never seen before, including one with a banana on it. A banana!

If I was 8 years old, I would have been more or less feeling like George Clooney; as it was I felt more like the 34-year-old that wouldn’t let the other children play Ms. Pac-Man and kind of ruined their birthday party. (And no, I didn’t realize they still had Ms. Pac-Man at arcades either; it was tucked away in the corner, lonely and abandoned, like Leno).

OK, second Thing (boy, that was a long Thing): I have nothing against the Chuck E. Cheese international empire, video arcades, skeeball, Mr. Cheese or even Munch’s Make Believe Band, an aging but not ineffective animatronic outfit that performs something like 70 shows a day and sounds not entirely displeasing, although I found their version of “Takin’ Care of Business” a little lacking in the rock department (I was much more impressed with their full-album performance of Slayer’s “Reign in Blood”).

I also understand perfectly well that children enjoy things that I might not, and that some of those things may include running around a dangerously overpopulated fun-tank that smells like afterthought-pizza in a mad, apoplectic pursuit of tokens, tickets and skeeball time. I would just like Mr. Cheese to know that though I’m not telling him how to take care of his business, it might not hurt to install, somewhere hidden but discoverable, a running fountain of whiskey.


About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official BruceSpringsteen.net, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

9 responses to “A reading from the gospel of Chuck E. Cheese

  • ubermilf

    (said as Nelson Muntz, with finger pointed at you) Ha, ha!


  • justinjarrett

    I’ll admit to never having set foot inside a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, much less having been ensnared in one, for the most part because I’m still bitter that rotten mouse and his ilk ran Showbiz Pizza out of business and sent the Rock-afire Explosion off to a life of busking for beer money in a subway station somewhere in the Midwest. I don’t even want to know what Mitzi Mozzarella would do for a crack rock these days.


  • Mom

    I’m with him. Rock-afire Explosion, you know, rocked!


  • Bradshaw

    Having previously worked at a Celebration Station (poor NW Indiana man’s Chuck E. Cheese), do not, and I cannot stress this enough, DO NOT let your children play in the pit of plastic balls.

    Do you have any idea how hard it is to clearn a giant pit full of plastic balls? I don’t either, because management had deemed it not worth the effort.


  • jvrabel7

    Bradshaw, thank you for your insight on the dangers of the pee balls


  • Belle

    You mean these CEC’s still exist? Oh dear. They were THE place to have b’day parties back then and I had hoped they had died a slow death by now. Noise, smell, ping!ping!ping!, bullies, cardboard pizza – the horrors of it all. I’ll bet we still have some of those tickets around in a drawer somewhere….’cause you know, 10,000 doesn’t buy anything cool so you have to save ’em up.

    We have no g’children yet but maybe Mr. Cheese will think your whiskey idea is a good suggestion by the time we do. Oh, man, vicious circle, indeed!


  • Mwinn

    Don’t know which one you went to but you should know that the one is Savannah actually does serve beer so that you can numb yourself slightly to the horror that is the giant rat.


  • Chuck E. Cheese Replaces Mascot, A Nation Mourns Its Lost Innocence « Jeff Vrabel

    […] GateHouse — I was in a Chuck E. Cheese one time, once, for a birthday party for the son of a friend we no longer talk to because he held his kid’s bi…. […]


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